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Everglades benefactor defends role

 
Published Sept. 23, 1996|Updated Sept. 16, 2005

The campaign to require sugar companies to pay more of the cost of cleaning up the Everglades has drawn more than 5,500 contributors, but one who is far more crucial than the others.

Paul Tudor Jones II, 41, a commodities broker from Greenwich, Conn., is the main contributor to the Save Our Everglades movement. Of almost $4.1-million the group has raised, a total of $3.65-million, or 89 percent of the total, has come out of Jones' pocket, campaign finance records show.

A generous charitable giver sometimes described as secretive, Jones has been happy to let his contributions speak for him. But he talked to the Miami Herald during the weekend at the Everglades campaign office.

He said he wanted to counter a sugar industry effort to cast him as a ruthless profiteer hoping to manipulate sugar prices and put growers out of business.

"They're trying to make me the focus of this debate," Jones said. "It's just a ploy, because they don't have a credible explanation for their side of the debate. They can't explain why a privileged few are allowed to benefit at the expense of so many and the Everglades."

At the center of the debate: whether sugar companies should pay a penny for every pound of Florida sugar to help restore a natural flow of water to the River of Grass and clean up pollution that washes out of cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee.

The tax would raise about $30-million a year for 25 years. And it would add $750-million a year to more than $220-million the industry already is committed to spending on restoration, with total costs expected to soar past $3-billion.

Environmentalists say the tax will be the sugar industry's fair share; the farmers say it will cost jobs and bankrupt their business. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule soon as to whether it will let voters decide the issue on Nov. 5.

As the campaign to put the sugar tax to the voters gained momentum, publicists for the sugar industry began circulating a two-page paper that targeted the movement's chief benefactor.

"Who is Paul Tudor Jones and why is spending millions on a campaign against Florida sugar farmers?" it asked.

Jones said it's no mystery.

He's a sportsman who is passionate about protecting the environment for his daughters, ages 2, 4, and 6.

"Fishing is part of my family tradition," he said. "So I regard an assault on the Everglades as an assault on my family. I want to guarantee my daughters grow up to enjoy fishing the way I did."

A native of Memphis, Tenn., Jones said his interest in the Everglades was stimulated by a family fishing trip to South Florida in 1967 and grew when he became close friends with the late George Barley, an Orlando developer who launched the Save Our Everglades campaign in 1994. Barley, who died in a plane crash last year, was Jones' neighbor at his vacation house on Islamorada.

The sugar industry paints a different picture.

The industry's flier says Jones is an environmental lawbreaker who filled wetlands without a permit in Maryland six years ago. It also says the Federal Election Commission is investigating Jones for allegedly overspending on a television ad critical of the sugar industry during last fall's state Republican presidential straw ballot.

And the paper says Jones is trying to upset a stable domestic sugar market for his own profit. Traders can make money in volatile markets.

Jones responds that he hasn't traded sugar for 18 months and, "I will never trade it again."

If others at his company, Tudor Investment Corp., trade sugar, he will donate their profits to the Everglades restoration, he said.

Jones did pay a $2-million fine for the wetlands violation that he blamed on his unfamiliarity with then-newly expanded federal regulations. For filling 86 acres on the 3,272-acre property, Jones' contractor went to prison for six months.

And the election commission is investigating Jones. But the source of the complaint is not certain.

"We're up against a multibillion-dollar industry that will do anything it can to maintain the power," Jones said. "But in truth, we're not going to put them out of business and we don't want to. We are for a healthy, vibrant sugar industry. Without it, we will not be able to collect fees to save the Everglades."